Discover more from Of Boys and Men
Birth Announcement: The American Institute for Boys and Men
We've had an incredible first week.
This week the American Institute for Boys and Men came into the world. For a new-born, we achieved a lot in our first week, with new research, events, essays and supporters. But before you do anything else, please do a couple of things for me?
Sign up here for AIBM’s monthly newsletter to keep in touch with all our work.
Tell literally everybody you know about us. Just forward this email if that’s easiest:
OK, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.
The week started with our work being prominently featured in an 8-minute segment on CBS Sunday Morning, “The effect of gender disparities on men”. It was excellently done: balanced, factual and grounded. It’s worth a look if you missed it:
Jonathan Haidt: “I’ve changed my mind…Boys are doing very badly too”
Our very first commentary is from Jonathan Haidt, the NYU social psychologist and author of many books, including his forthcoming The Anxious Generation (which you can, and should, preorder here).
I think Jon’s essay, titled “Why I’m increasingly worried about boys, too”, is an important moment in the debate, given the work he has done on teen girls. It is also a terrific example of the ability to transcend zero-sum thinking on gender issues. Here’s an excerpt:
…Jean Twenge, Zach Rausch, and I found sharp increases in poor mental health for girls right around 2013. One major correlational study found that girls who are heavy users of social media are three times more likely to be depressed than non-users, while for boys, there’s no sign of harm for light use, and heavy users are “only” twice as likely to be depressed as non-users.
The conclusion was clear: Social media harms girls via multiple well-known mechanisms including social comparison, early sexualization, perfectionism, cyberbullying and relational aggression, and emotional contagion. Mystery solved, right?
Not quite. What about the boys? Their depression rates also go up in Figure 1, but not as much, and without a clear “elbow.” So, maybe the story is that boys use social media less than girls do, and/or it is less harmful to them, so we should focus most of our efforts on helping girls.
That’s what I thought when I began my deep dive into the mental health crisis of Gen Z. After four years of research, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve found that boys are doing very badly too, but it was harder to see because I was focusing on the wrong outcome variables. I’ve learned that the collapse of boys’ mental health is driven by different social and technological factors, compared to girls.
For more, read the whole essay, it’s as good as you’d expect.
Male Suicide: Patterns and Recent Trends
Our first research brief digs into the data on male suicide rates. I’ve written here before on this subject, sometimes quite trenchantly, and I’m really pleased we were able to produce such a data-rich piece of work. Mental health is an immediate priority for AIBM, not least in terms of simply raising awareness. I’m still astonished by how astonished people often are when I present these facts. Here are the main findings:
In 2022, 39,282 men and 10,207 women took their own lives.
The suicide risk for men is four times higher than for women, while the rate of attempted suicide is higher for women than men.
If male suicide rates had been the same as women’s from 1999-2022, we would have lost 545,000 fewer men to suicide.
Since 2010, suicide rates have risen by 34% for younger (25-34) men.
Rates are highest amongst men who are white, American Indian and Alaska Native, over 65, and living in rural areas.
That 545,000 number gives a sense of what the gap in suicide rates means in terms of actual lives lost. For perspective, that’s more than the population of Atlanta.
What I learned from the analysis was that the rise in male suicide rates since the turn of the century has varied by age group. Up to 2010 the rise was among middle-aged men, tracking the general rise in “deaths of despair”. But from 2010, the rise has been among younger men. The fastest rise has been for suicide rates among men aged 25 to 34, up by a staggering 34% since 2010:
There’s much more detail in the brief, please take a look and do share with anybody you think would benefit from knowing more about these patterns and trends.
A Boys and Men Commission in Washington State? Yes please!
I’m pretty excited about this one. Here’s how I open my own commentary piece:
Lawmakers in Washington State may be about to lead the nation by establishing a bipartisan Commission on Boys and Men. The Commission would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Its creation would demonstrate that politicians, or at least, politicians in Olympia, are able to move beyond the zero-sum thinking that is distorting the debate over gender issues.
The new Commission on Boys and Men would complement the state’s Women’s Commission, established in 2018. The proposal for the Commission is based on the presumption that it is possible to work on the issues facing boys and men in the state – including a threefold higher risk of a death from suicide, a suspension from school, or of being unsheltered – at the same time as tackling the challenges of girls and women, including workplace sexual harassment, childcare costs and a lack of women in corporate leadership.
It is not only possible. It is necessary. Policymakers can think two thoughts at once. Policymakers can do two things at once.
I hope that other states would then follow Olympia’s lead, complementing their existing women’s Commission or similar institution with one focused boys and men:
But we also have some new data, thanks to a study we commissioned from Dan Goldhaber and Stephanie Liddle, both at the University of Washington. They draw on a detailed longitudinal study to examine gender gaps through K-12. Among their findings is that 35% of boys graduate high school with at least a 3.0 GPA, compared to 51% of girls. (We’ll publish a summary of that work soon, and hope to be able to dig in even deeper in the months ahead).
AIBM On Tour
In fact Dan presented his work at the very first AIBM event, held in Seattle’s main public library on Tuesday. Great crowd, great conversation, great fun!
After Dan’s data-rich opening, I had a conversation with the Chancellor of UW Tacoma, Sheila Edwards Lange. Among her many gems about educational disparities. “This has long been an issue for Black men. Now it’s all men”. We’ll be posting some video and other outputs from the event soon: watch this space.
I then spoke at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. It’s really striking me how this issue is being discussed more openly at regional publics than at flagships: maybe because the gender gaps are more pronounced there? I then spent time with administration, faculty and students. Super impressed with their engagement on this issue, and inspired by the leadership of Chancellor Maria Gallo, who has already done such great work as chair of the Women’s Network Executive Council (WNEC) or the American Council on Education (ACE). Chancellor Gallo, too, is living proof that we can think two thoughts at once on gender gaps. (The River Falls team have already posted the video of my talk).
Next up, Atlanta, for a keynote at the ExcelinEd national summit, where I made our case to more than 1,000 policymakers and educators from around the U.S. I was honored to then have a conversation with Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner. Even though this picture makes it look like we’re floating in space, I promise it was a very grounded conversation, as well as a terrifically fun one:
I am really proud of the work we’ve already completed and embarked upon, and of our small but mighty team at AIBM. Will, Alanna, Oscar and Sam: you all rock.
Again, please do help to spread the news, share our findings, send us your ideas, and wish us well. We’re off!